Geraldine Cereceda has helped thousands of people gain access to healthcare services over the past 18 years. She is passionate about connecting underserved and marginalized populations because she knows what it’s like to delay care out of fear of the high costs and bills that come with visiting a doctor when you’re uninsured.
Cereceda moved to the United States from Peru in the fall of 2000 to join family members in Minnesota. Her infant son got sick shortly after she settled in the Twin Cities and with no insurance and no idea of what to do, she ended up at a community clinic in South Minneapolis. “I was scared because I thought I was going to be in big debt,” Cereceda said.
But she received help at the clinic to enroll in insurance and her son got the care he needed.
That visit was the beginning of her new career in her new home.
When Cereceda returned to the clinic for a follow-up appointment, one of the doctors, who was also from Peru, told her the clinic was hiring for a front desk position. She applied for the job and was hired by Southside Community Health Services. Cereceda worked at the front desk and within her first year at the clinic she moved into a patient advocate position.
“When I came here they helped me apply for insurance,” Cereceda said. And for the last 18 years, she’s been helping others do the same thing.
“I’m the bridge between patients and healthcare access,” she said, “I help them through the whole process and work through their concerns about how they are going to pay.”
As the lead patient advocate at Southside, Cereceda spends her days helping patients and community members gain access to care by providing free assistance with MNsure applications, completing sliding fee applications for discounted services at the clinic, and connecting people to other resources such as charity care health programs, food resources and cash assistance.
While helping people with insurance coverage is the primary part of her job, she has become a trusted voice and resource for many in the community, especially the growing Hispanic/Latino community in South Minneapolis and the southern suburbs.
While there are still disparities related to healthcare access and outcomes, Cereceda said she thinks things have gotten better since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which brought the Medicaid expansion and MNsure marketplace to Minnesota.
“Insurance coverage has gotten better,” she said. “I have a lot more options to give clients now.” She also thinks the individual mandate, the requirement to have health insurance coverage, also helped. And she thinks people will still enroll in healthcare coverage even though the mandate is going away in 2019. “Now that people know the benefits, and they had a good experience with MNsure, I’d say 80% decided to continue,” Cereceda said. “I have a lot of people that already renewed for next year, some have to pay and buy insurance, but they still want it. There are very few who are not renewing.
Going into the new year, Cereceda wants people to know that resources and help are available.
“There is never a ‘no’ for healthcare access,” she said. “Everybody has a chance and there are ways to access better health. We have sliding fee scale, we have charity care, we have MNsure. Everybody has access to something, everybody.”
(Southside Community Health Services has two locations: The medical and behavioral clinic is at 324 E. 35th St.—located in the back of Green Elementary School; the vision and dental clinic is at 4243 4th Ave. S.)
When you can enroll in health insurance or make changes to your plan varies based on which types of plans you are eligible for.
• If you receive health insurance coverage through work, check with your employer for more information.
• If you qualify for a public healthcare program such as Medical Assistance or Minnesota Care, or you are a member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe, you can enroll year-round.
• If you want to enroll in a private health insurance plan or make changes to a current plan, you will need to do so during Minnesota’s open enrollment period (11/1/18 – 01/13/19).
You can also enroll in private health insurance or make changes to your current plan within 60 days of experiencing a qualifying life event such as having a baby, getting married, moving to a new area, or losing other health coverage.
To schedule an appointment with one of Southside’s patient advocates, please contact Southside Community Health Service’s Medical Clinic at 612-827-7181, 324 E. 35th St.